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20 Years Strong

Previewing the Pittsburgh International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival

The annual Pittsburgh International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival turns 20 this year, and thus it's no surprise that the nearly two dozen domestic and international films and videos presented offer windows into a well-established community. This year there are fewer coming-out films and more stories about commitment: Marriage and babies factor into several. But the community is hardly monolithic: Look for intriguing documentaries about Internet sex workers, women who live as men and the campaign to bring respect to the leather scene. And homophobia is something to confront head-on -- whether on the soccer pitch in Germany or the streets of Lubbock, Texas.

            But first there's dating! And who hasn't been in those social wars, and lived to tell funny stories? This year's festival kicks off Fri. Oct. 14, with a romantic comedy based on the popular underground comic strip, The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green, that'll have you shaking your head and laughing. The screening will be followed by a gala party.

            The festival continues through Sun., Oct. 23. Films and videos screen at the Harris Theater, Downtown, and the SouthSide Works Cinema. Tickets are $8 for single admissions; $6 for under 25. Discount passes are available, including: the Six Ticket packet ($45 for six admissions); the Screen Queen Pass ($75 for 10 admissions); and the Diva Pass ($125 for admission to all festival events including the opening- and closing-night films and parties.) Contact 412-422-6776 or www.pilgff.org for more information.


Here is the screening schedule for the first seven days:


Fri., Oct. 14


8:30 p.m. THE MOSTLY UNFABULOUS SOCIAL LIFE OF ETHAN GREEN. George Bamber directs this relationship comedy based on the long-running comic strip of the same name. It's not that Ethan (Daniel Letterle) has trouble getting dates -- he just can't decide whom he wants, and what sort of relationship it is he needs. With conflicting advice from several quarters -- his lesbian housemate with her own love woes; his mom (Meredith Baxter), who works as a gay-wedding planner; the "Hat Sisters," a pair of bitchy but wise old queens -- Ethan flits from old boyfriend to newly out hottie baseball star to a voraciously horny teen. The farcical story offers a fair amount of wit (the dinner with the Log Cabin Republican is a hoot), while reaffirming that happiness can follow the chaotic dating scene. The director and actors Letterle and David Monahan will be present for the screening. To be screened via video projection. SouthSide Works; tickets are $30; to be followed by a party at Hot Metal Grille.


Sat., Oct. 15


4:30 p.m. YOUTH SHORTS. A program of five short films about gay youth issues. Under 25 admitted free. Harris


7 p.m. THE D WORD. This spoof of The L Word, co-directed by Noelle Brower, Cherien Naffa Daibes and Maggie Burkle, features six 10-minutes "episodes" that revolve around the foibles of the women at New York City's Drunken Pussycat bar. Screens with the animated short "Mommy, Where Do Gays Come From?" To be screened via video projection. Harris


9:45 p.m. CYCLES OF PORN: SEX/LIFE IN L.A., PART 2. From a Big Brother-ish live-on-the-Net-for-pay sex house to the bareback videos shot in tony Palm Springs, Jochen Hick follows up his 1998 documentary about Southern California's gay-porn industry. The guys are hot, the peek behind the curtain titillating, but ultimately the stories are sad. Most of these cycles loop the participants back to the ostracized states that led them to porn initially -- out of money, back on drugs, trolling in the night. The smarter ones hop up the ladder to the infinitely more stable and lucrative production side of the business. Be advised: This film contains scenes of graphic sexuality. To be screened via video projection. Harris


Sun., Oct. 16


4:30 p.m. THE EDUCATION OF SHELBY KNOX. She may be a giggly 15-year-old who dreams of singing light opera, but Shelby Knox is one determined and self-possessed teen. In spite of being raised as a conservative Christian in Lubbock, Texas, Shelby campaigns rigorously -- and against near-insurmountable community odds -- for comprehensive sex education in the city's public high schools (Lubbock has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates nationwide). She's unbowed by patronizing right-wing radio hosts or smarmy youth pastors; sways her Republican parents; and winds up on the front lines fighting for gay-teen rights, all without compromising her own religious beliefs. Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt's documentary is an infuriating but inspirational story relevant to today's front-page struggles for respect and common sense regarding teen sexuality. To be screened via video projection. Harris


7 p.m. WOMEN IN LOVE. Filmmaker Karen Everett turns her camera on herself and her colleagues in San Francisco's lesbian artistic community. Her hour-long essay -- while often autobiographical in nature -- reveals a supportive coterie of women in their 30s and early 40s, a generation entirely comfortable with their lesbian identity and politics, yet as individuals still struggling to define the parameters of love, relationships and experimental sexuality. Upon turning 40 and embarking on another "committed" relationship, Everett opts to explore polyamorous behavior. While she occasionally risks becoming solipsistic, her frank soul-searching reveals the ironies in trying to delineate what's an "open" relationship. And you'll enjoy her more grounded friends -- noted lesbian erotica photographer Phyllis Christopher and the good-natured pornographers Shar Rednour and Jackie Strano -- who take time out from their own busy lives to offer advice and comfort. To be screened via video projection. Harris


9:15 p.m. WILBY WONDERFUL. The residents of Wilby, a picture-postcard Nova Scotia island, are forced to come to terms with gay cruising in this ensemble comedy from Daniel McIvor. To be screened via video projection. Harris


Mon., Oct. 17


7 p.m. WOMEN'S SHORTS. A program of short films by and about women. Harris


9:30 p.m. MR. LEATHER. Winning L.A.'s "Mr. Leather" title involves more than just strutting one's toned ass on stage in a pair of chaps: Today's Mr. Leather is expected to be an articulate spokesman for one of the gay community's sub-sects -- those hyper-manly guys who sport leather, harnesses and butch uniforms, and engage in consensual rough and kinky sex. Jason Garrett's engaging documentary follows the nine contestants for the 2003 title as they agonize over their speeches, pick out outfits (formal wear and jockstrap), drum up support in bars -- and, yes, get in some last-minute body-sculpting. Natasha V's short "Love Hurts" also screens. To be screened via video projection. Harris


Tue., Oct. 18


8 p.m. RACE YOU TO THE BOTTOM. As in last year's hit Sideways, in Russell Brown's comedy-drama it takes a road trip through California wine country for our protagonists to sort out what they want from love. Nathan (Cole Williams) is a bitchy bisexual, more apt to sling a barb than reveal a genuine emotion. He's left his boyfriend at home while he cavorts with Maggie, who, despite her boyfriend and her studied nonchalance, is falling in love with Nathan. Sprinkled with wry humor, and featuring a winsome performance by Amber Benson as Maggie (there's shades of early Scarlett Johansson), this is a road movie to remind you that the heart's journey is the roughest ride.


Wed., Oct. 19


8 p.m. MEN'S SHORTS. A program of short films by and about men. Harris


Thu., Oct. 20


7 p.m. THE AGGRESSIVES. Daniel Peddle's documentary depicts a secretive lesbian subculture in New York City's poor districts, where a group of gender-bending women known as "The Aggressives" lead hyper-butch lifestyles. To be screened via video projection. Harris


9 p.m. HATE CRIME. When his fiancé is beaten to death in a nearby park, Robbie suspects their new neighbor, who is openly homophobic. The police dismiss his theories as circumstantial at best, leaving Robbie to sort out the crime and enact justice in his own fashion. Unfortunately, Tommy Stovall's drama, which tackles such thorny topics as murder and vengeance (with an extra dose of domestic melodrama), is undermined by poor dialogue and amateurish acting. Even forgiving this, Hate Crime's eventual message, after several twists, is morally muddled. Of note: Bruce Davison, star of 1990's ground-breaking AIDS drama Longtime Companion, here plays a gay-hating evangelical pastor. To be screened via video projection. Harris

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